On a night full of big football plays, no moment was bigger than No. 8 Harrison Central’s final defensive stand.
With No. 2 Ocean Springs mounting a late fourth-quarter rally, but facing a fourth-and-2 at the Red Rebels’ 9, senior linebacker Aaron Rainey blitzed through the gap and took down Greyhound quarterback Drew Windham.
The sack clinched a 28-24 Red Rebels win and made the difference between possibly being left out of the playoffs completely and landing the second seed in Region 4-6A for the impending playoffs.
“We just played hard. We got down but we didn’t give up. We made plays when we had to and came out with the victory,” Rainey said. “(The final sack) was an A-gap blitz. They blocked to the nose and tackle and I just went in untouched and made the tackle.”
As the No. 2 seed, Harrison Central (6-6 overall, 5-2 Region 4-6A) will host Petal (7-4 overall) to open the playoffs Friday.
Three-seed Ocean Springs (8-3, 5-2) will travel to Oak Grove (9-2).
“We’ve come a long way from my freshman year, when I played varsity and we played on a grass field and had three wins,” Rainey said. “Now my senior season, getting the second seed on a turf field, it’s big. It means a lot.”
First-year head coach Casey Cain was on the field being interviewed when the public address announcer confirmed over the speakers D’Iberville held on to beat St. Martin 34-33, giving HCHS the No. 2 seed.
“I’m just thankful and blessed. It’s unbelievable,” Cain said. “I love it for the kids. I’m really in awe just the way the kids have progressed week in and week out.”
The catalyst on offense for HCHS was quarterback Tavis Williams. The junior ripped off a 75-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter to tie the game 14-14. With 2 minutes remaining in the first half, he ripped off a 61-yard run to give HCHS its first lead at 21-17. Both times Williams ran like he was slathered in Crisco, slipping through the grasp of Greyhound defenders.
“Like I said back in July, if Tavis Williams is on we have a chance to be pretty good,” Cain said. “The last few weeks he really came on. If Tavis is clicking we have a chance every Friday night.”
Williams completed 8 of 12 passes for 90 yards and finished with 195 yards on the ground.
Mid-way through the third quarter defensive back Dee White extended Harrison Central’s lead to 28-17 when he scooped up a blocked field goal and returned it 85 yards for a touchdown.
Ocean Springs had driven 69 yards down the field, but after being flagged for a false start on fourth-and-goal at the 1, the Greyhounds opted to take the points and chip in a 23-yard field goal to pull the game within 1. Instead, HCHS defender Steven Biggs Jr. broke through the protection and blocked the chip shot. After that the athletic White took over.
“I just saw the ball get swatted and fly up, so I just scooped it and scored,” White said. “I didn’t know if I had anyone on me (down the sideline), I just knew I had to score.”
After a slow start to the game passing, Windham found his groove in the third quarter with receiver Austin Williams. The two connected for a 44-yard score late in the fourth to bring the score to 28-24 and and accounted for 67 of the Greyhounds’ 80 yards on the final drive of the game. Windham also had a big 18-yard fourth-down run to keep the drive alive.
“I thought Drew did a good job placing the ball where it needed to be and giving us a chance,” OSHS coach Ryan Ross said.
Windham finished with 209 yards passing. Williams was the beneficiary, catching nine passes for 193 yards. Running back Matthew Pleasant opened the game with a 51-yard touchdown and later scored on a 3-yard run to lead Ocean Springs with 148 yards. HCHS running back Walter Carter tied the game 7-7 on a 4-yard run mid-way through the first. Brad Wall also converted a 47-yard field goal for Ocean Springs.